The 3.5 Star Chinese Restaurant

First, let’s get this out of the way — Yelp should be used only as a starting point for finding good places, Yelp rewards specific kinds of restaurants, service has a disproportionate affect on a restaurant’s rating, Yelp generally sucks, and anybody who is a Yelp Elite also sucks and are the same kind of people who really really want to be cops i.e. the kind of people you don’t want doing it.

That being said, I’ve found an interesting trend when looking for good Chinese food, which is this:

The Best* Chinese Restaurants on Yelp are usually rated 3.5 stars.

*Best here refers to “My opinion” which is also happens to be “objectively correct.”

As far as I can tell the reason for this is as follows:

  1. The negative reviews of those restaurants generally are due to “bad service.”

By way of example, here’s some excerpts from Lien Hoa BBQ, a counter service BBQ pork/roast duck place in Westminster that has excellent pork and duck:

“If you don’t mind getting yelled at and spoken to like you’re an illiterate child, then this is the place for you. The food here is fantastic, but the service is an absolute joke.” -Kimberly P.
“Stay away from this place if you still have any pride left as a human being. The people here treat their customers worse than stray dogs starving for leftovers.” -Ken S.

Lucky for me, I don’t mind getting yelled at, and I have no pride left as a human being!

And here’s some for Shanghai Dumpling House, a dumpling place in SGV that kicks the living snot out of anything Din Tai Fung has ever dreamed up:

“The service is absolutely HORRIBLE. We self seated ourselves and practically had to beg the waiter to bring us water and for them to take our order.” -Lisa V.
“They are so rude! They lead us to seat at a corner, and we didn’t know cash only here. When we checked, they denied to receive payment by our credit card.” -Ran N.

I should point out that docking a restaurant because you didn’t know it was cash-only is the height of Yelp arrogance.

Moreover, I believe the standards of “service” in Asian restaurants follow a different cultural norm than we’re used to. To wit — Korean restaurants invented a fucking doorbell apparatus on the table so diners can notify their servers they want something. Thus, service follows a “squeaky wheel gets the grease” model, and anyone used to the Western “customer is always right” model will feel ignored, like these fine Yelp reviewers did.

(Japanese restaurants are an exception to this, for reasons we won’t get into here, but it’s why good Japanese restaurants are rated in the 4–5 star range)

2. If a Chinese restaurant is “authentic” in that they ignore your dumb ass unless you speak up, their food is definitely “authentic” as well.

The best food is food that does not compromise.

The kinds of Chinese restaurants that do (P.F. Changs, Panda Express, Din Tai Fung yeah baby Din Tai Fung is in that category come at me) end up being mediocre, and given that we all have a finite number of meals in our lifetime, we should strive for something beyond mediocre.

3. Authentic Experience + Authentic Food = Good Restaurant

The two opposing forces of a place with bad service and great food means that, after the hordes of Yelp idiots have their way with the joint, the average ends up at 3.5 stars.

That isn’t to say there aren’t good Chinese places that are rated higher, or that every 3.5 star place is actually good — it’s just that, after everything shakes out through the cesspool of Yelp’s algorithm, it seems that a lot of really great Chinese restaurants end up right at that 3.5 mark.

So if you come across a spot that’s 3.5 stars and, like me, have no problem being treated like sub-human filth in your pursuit of eating well, give it a shot — it might just be a secretly great Chinese restaurant!